Let’s get one thing straight: people die all the time, but the deaths that stick with us the most are those of our loved ones, friends and idols. This is especially true if their deaths come out of nowhere and catch us by complete surprise. The death of singer and pop star Selena Quintanilla-Pérez was much like this and is famous amongst the Mexican-American community and the fans that obsessed over her, her music and her murder.
On March 31, 1995, Quintanilla-Pérez, better known as Selena, was murdered by her best friend and president of her fan club,Yolanda Saldívar, in Corpus Christi, Texas. At the time, Selena was 24 and less than a month away from her next birthday.
This murder sent a shockwave around the world and it is still talked about today. One interesting way Selena’s death has been examined is through the eye of Melissa Lozada-Oliva in her newest book, “Dreaming of You: A Novel in Verse.”
The book follows the author as she decides one day to bring Selena back to life. It is both a raw and morbidly charming read that takes its audience through a whirlwind of emotions with every character introduced.
It also examines the complexities of both wanting to respect dead celebrities and leave them in peace and wanting to immortalize them in art to keep their souls alive.
On Nov. 2, Lozada-Oliva sat down with Alison Stewart, host of podcast “All Of It,” and described one of the reasons Selena is so talked about to this day. “I think whenever someone dies at an untimely age, it just feels really uncanny and wrong,” Lozada-Olivia said. “I think with Selena, she was this bright, beautiful, shining, impossibly talented star, and because she died so young she can always stay that way.”
This idea of Selena’s image being preserved as youthful and bright pops up throughout the book. It is one of the reasons that I was intrigued by it in the first place, other than the fact that I have been following Lozada-Oliva’s work since 2016.
Selena was able to live and die with an almost perfect image. She didn’t live long enough to embarrass herself, obtain hate for being controversial or, as Lozada-Oliva likes to joke in her novel, become a Trump supporter. To the Mexican-American community, she died an angel, a dream girl whose aspirations will never be achieved. And because of what she could have become, she also became a fantasy.
Throughout the novel, we see fantasies and illusions of what her life was in the past, and what her life could have been. Another depiction of Selena’s life came out on Netflix back in December. I am always fascinated by how humans tend to bring the dead back to life. Whether it be in movies such as “Lady Diana,” “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” or “Get on Up,” we are always trying to remind the masses that these people once existed.
They are like muses. We take their lives and spin them into our own creations. And that is exactly what Lozada-Oliva does with Selena in “Dreaming of You.”
Through verse, she allows her readers to see undead Selena, a perfectly preserved version of the star. We see through Lozada-Oliva’s eyes the unraveling of her character’s life and how it re-portrays Selena’s death. Lozada-Oliva does this with past dialogue from Selena’s interviews, references to her various songs and the exploration of her relationship with her killer, Yolanda Saldívar, before and after her death.
If you are a Selena Quintanilla-Pérez fan or a fan of true crime, poetry or verse, this novel is for you. Fair warning, however blunt it gets, or if you get to a certain part and feel personally attacked and shamefully relatable to the main characters, trust me — it’s worth the read.